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J Hepatol. 2010 Apr;52(4):514-22. doi: 10.1016/j.jhep.2010.01.014. Epub 2010 Feb 13.

Hepatitis B surface antigen (HBsAg) levels in the natural history of hepatitis B virus (HBV)-infection: a European perspective.

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Department of Gastroenterology, Hepatology and Endocrinology, Hannover Medical School, Carl-Neuberg-Str.1, Hannover, Germany.



The quantifiable level of HBsAg has been suggested as a predictor of treatment response in chronic hepatitis B. However, there is limited information on HBsAg levels considering the dynamic natural course of HBV-infection. This study aimed to determine HBsAg levels in the different phases of HBV-infection in European HBsAg-positive patients.


226 HBV-monoinfected patients, not undergoing antiviral therapy, were analyzed in a cross-sectional study. Patients were categorized according to the phase of HBV-infection: HBeAg(+) immune tolerance phase (IT, n=30), immune clearance phase (IC, n=48), HBeAg(-) low-replicative phase (LR, n=68), HBeAg(-) hepatitis (ENH, n=68), and acute hepatitis B (n=12). HBsAg was quantified and correlated with HBV-DNA, HBV-genotypes and clinical parameters. In addition, 30 LR-patients were followed longitudinally.


HBsAg levels were higher in IT-patients and IC-patients compared to LR-patients and ENH-patients (4.96/4.37/3.09/3.87-log(10)IU/ml, p<0.001). HBsAg showed a strong correlation with HBV-DNA during acute hepatitis B (R=0.79, p<0.01). Correlation of HBsAg and HBV-DNA was weak or missing when analyzing different phases of persistent HBV-infection separately. However, associations between HBsAg and HBV-DNA were observed in patients infected with HBV-genotype D but not with HBV-genotype A. LR-patients with HBV-reactivation during follow-up (increase of HBV-DNA >2000IU/ml) showed >3-fold higher baseline HBsAg levels with a NPV of 95% for an HBsAg cut-off of 3500IU/ml.


HBsAg levels show significant differences during the natural course of HBV-infection and between HBV-genotypes. These findings may have important implications for understanding the natural history of HBV-infection and for using quantitative HBsAg as a diagnostic tool, i.e. as a marker for predicting HBV-reactivation.

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